Can Automation Bridge the Manufacturing Skills Gap?
The manufacturing industry is experiencing a work experience deficiency. Recent research by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte predicts that if things continue down this path, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs may be left unfilled between now and 2030, potentially costing the U.S. economy as much as $1 trillion. Manufacturing managers continue to be in hiring mode, anxious to find experienced professionals to offset the workforce skills gap, but the disparities are only widening. Could automation be the key to breathing life back into the manufacturing industry?
Why Is There a Manufacturing Skills Gap?
There are various reasons for the manufacturing skills gap, which have been amplified in the recent months and years. These include:
New Technologies and Skill Sets in the Industry
The manufacturing industry is constantly innovating and developing new solutions to increase efficiency. Companies get excited about the possibility of these new technologies reducing production costs and enhancing productivity. However, they forget it is also important to leverage their human capital and ensure their workforce has the skills to operate such technology. Without workers who have the specific skill sets to operate new technology, businesses can't take advantage of these advancements.
Because of ongoing technological advancements, manufacturers are seeking workers with several applicable skill sets. It’s no longer enough to be knowledgeable about manufacturing as a general skill. Many manufacturers are starting to expect employees to be knowledgeable about operating robotics and automation too. Many middle-aged workers may shy away from manufacturing jobs because of this, believing they don’t have the time to learn the newly required skills independently.
An Aging, Retiring Workforce
Highly skilled workers with over 10 years of experience in the industry are now beginning to leave the workforce. These workers possessed unique skill sets when entering the industry but were also able to expand their skills upon continuously working on the job. Finding replacements for these extremely adept workers is exceptionally hard. According to the same The Manufacturing Institute study, retirement of baby boomers accounts for 34% of the reason why many manufacturing positions are currently going unfilled.
Because of this, manufacturing managers often lure veteran workers from competing manufacturing businesses. Attracting these workers often requires higher salaries and greater benefit packages. However, smaller manufacturers are less likely to be able to afford the resources to encourage skilled workers in this way.
The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
According to the study, the COVID-19 pandemic erased approximately 1.4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs, destroying more than a decade of manufacturing job gains. While the industry hired back 820,000 people by the end of 2020, over 570,000 jobs remained unfilled. This hiring disparity remains despite there being over 500,000 job openings. Manufacturing executives report that they even have trouble filling higher-paying positions now.
Now more than ever, workers and employees are valuing stability and seeking certain benefits from potential employers. Due to this massive job loss, manufacturing is no longer perceived as a safe option for steady employment.
STEM Skills Being Directed Away From Manufacturing
There is often a stigma toward blue-collar workers, with these individuals being seen as less educated. Though college students are developing the necessary STEM skills to thrive in the manufacturing industry, young workers are avoiding blue-collar jobs because they believe this work demographic isn’t valued and doesn't receive enough pay or benefits. Instead, they opt for white-collar jobs, perceiving them to have higher-paying wages and more career mobility.
What Are Some Potential Solutions to Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap?
The manufacturing skills gap is far from a new issue. Industry leaders have brainstormed ways to narrow this disparity for quite some time. Some suggested methods for reinvigorating manufacturing jobs include:
The Power of Education
To build an educated group of future manufacturing workers, you must work with the schools producing these students. Participating in apprenticeship programs while providing training material and hands-on instruction will garner interest in your manufacturing plant when students are ready to join the workforce. Furthering education is also beneficial for your workforce. To best utilize new technology and automation solutions and optimize your operations, you need to address any existing knowledge and skills gaps among your employees.
A blended approach of on-the-job training, online training, digital machinist training and instruction on heavy equipment can help engage a diverse group of workers. You may also find that your existing employees are eager to expand their skills and enter new positions within the company. Diversifying your instructional materials and making them accessible to every worker's needs ensures individuals can receive education in a format that works with their learning capabilities.
A Cultural Evolution
Many manufacturing reports express a growing need for diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing industry labor force. Having a diverse workforce has been proven to drive financial performance, overall job performance and innovation in businesses within many sectors — not just manufacturing. In a recent survey, 63% of Fortune 500 manufacturers associate the benefits of being diverse and inclusive with their ability to attract, retain and develop talent within their companies.
Changing Manufacturing Industry Perceptions
Common perceptions about the manufacturing industry are a prevalent reason why young STEM students avoid manufacturing positions in favor of other fields. Jeff French, the National Managing Partner of Consumer and Industrial Products at Grant Thornton LLP, states, “Companies need to create an environment that looks and feels like what they are talking about.” Some common misconceptions about manufacturing jobs are that they are dirty, dark and dangerous. In reality, modern manufacturing jobs are often clean, safe and high-tech.
One way manufacturering companies are combating the negative outlook on manufacturing is by investing more into the appearance of their physical spaces and transforming the working environment to become something beyond a standard bleak factory floor. Another way to change the perception of the manufacturing industry is to change how you recruit new workers into your company.
When recruiting, highlight the role of technology in your manufacturing operations. Generating awareness around state-of-the-art technologies surrounding manufacturing operations can make people rethink the assumption that manufacturing is for the unskilled and uneducated. To help you recruit new talent, Genesis Automation can assist you in upgrading your company's automation by designing custom, high-quality systems for all your needs.
Automation’s Role in Helping Close the Manufacturing Skills Gap
While manufacturing companies work to close the skills gap, automation provides solutions for bringing in new employees. Automated tech is not meant to replace workers altogether but rather supplement skills for manufacturing jobs. Robotics and automation tools often still need human intervention, which opens up new opportunities to hire people to manage these machines.
Automated equipment allows facilities to reduce repetitive tasks, work error-free for longer and maximize production throughput. It also requires organizations to have higher-value, mid-to-high skilled positions for programming and upkeep of these automated systems — plus operating them daily.